Why there isn’t inter-level causation in mechanisms

Abstract

The experimental interventions that provide evidence of causal relations are notably similar to those that provide evidence of constitutive relevance relations. In the first two sections, I show that this similarity creates a tension: there is an inconsistent triad between (1) Woodward’s popular interventionist theory of causation, (2) Craver’s mutual manipulability account of constitutive relevance in mechanisms, and a variety of arguments for (3) the incoherence of inter-level causation. I argue for an interpretation of the views in which the tension is merely apparent. I propose to explain inter-level relations without inter-level causation by appealing to the notion of fat-handed interventions, and an argument against inter-level causation which dissolves the problem.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Given that all direct causes are contributing causes, I write the conclusion in terms of the latter.

  2. 2.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for Synthese for pushing me to clarify this section.

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Acknowledgments

I wish to thank Carl Craver, John Heil, Frederick Eberhardt, Lena Kästner, Lauren Olin, Isaac Wiegman, Mark Povich, and two anonymous reviewers for Synthese for comments on previous drafts. I also received helpful comments when this paper was presented at the 2012 Models and Mechanisms Conference, Tilburg University; and the 2013 St. Louis Area Philosophy of Science Association Meeting, University of Missouri in St.Louis.

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Correspondence to Felipe Romero.

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Romero, F. Why there isn’t inter-level causation in mechanisms. Synthese 192, 3731–3755 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-015-0718-0

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Keywords

  • Mechanisms
  • Mutual manipulability
  • Interventionism
  • Inter-level causation